Coronavirus and prisons in the EU: Member-State measures to reduce spread of the virus

22-06-2020

The coronavirus crisis has put huge pressure on European prisons, already often affected by chronic overcrowding and poor healthcare services. Ensuring strict sanitary conditions, adequate health monitoring and the necessary distancing to prevent an outbreak in these closed environments − particularly vulnerable to contagion − has been a considerable challenge for most, if not all EU Member States. Starting from March 2020, as lockdowns and states of emergency gradually came into force across Europe, EU Member States have taken a number of containment measures to protect prisoners' health. These measures have consisted mostly of suspending all visits and regular activities in order to limit contacts among detainees and also between detainees and the outside world. Transfers of prisoners between EU countries have been put on hold as well. Improved sanitary measures have been taken in detention centres, in terms of both personal hygiene and cleanliness of premises. At the same time, several Member States have sought to reduce overcrowding, by limiting entries and increasing exits, for instance by postponing the execution of sentences or using alternatives to detention. However, according to the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, at least half the Member States did not seek alternatives to detention. This briefing looks into the various measures adopted by Member States between early March and the end of May 2020 in response to the challenges posed to the Union's prisons by the coronavirus crisis. While, at the time of writing, containment measures in many Member States are gradually being eased, the long-term impact of the pandemic on prison conditions and populations remains to be seen.

The coronavirus crisis has put huge pressure on European prisons, already often affected by chronic overcrowding and poor healthcare services. Ensuring strict sanitary conditions, adequate health monitoring and the necessary distancing to prevent an outbreak in these closed environments − particularly vulnerable to contagion − has been a considerable challenge for most, if not all EU Member States. Starting from March 2020, as lockdowns and states of emergency gradually came into force across Europe, EU Member States have taken a number of containment measures to protect prisoners' health. These measures have consisted mostly of suspending all visits and regular activities in order to limit contacts among detainees and also between detainees and the outside world. Transfers of prisoners between EU countries have been put on hold as well. Improved sanitary measures have been taken in detention centres, in terms of both personal hygiene and cleanliness of premises. At the same time, several Member States have sought to reduce overcrowding, by limiting entries and increasing exits, for instance by postponing the execution of sentences or using alternatives to detention. However, according to the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, at least half the Member States did not seek alternatives to detention. This briefing looks into the various measures adopted by Member States between early March and the end of May 2020 in response to the challenges posed to the Union's prisons by the coronavirus crisis. While, at the time of writing, containment measures in many Member States are gradually being eased, the long-term impact of the pandemic on prison conditions and populations remains to be seen.